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DEA looks at ‘unusual’ narcotics ordering at longtime pharmacy

Carnegie Sargent's Pharamacy Water Tower Building 845 N. Michigan Ave. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

Carnegie Sargent's Pharamacy in the Water Tower Building, 845 N. Michigan Ave. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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Updated: February 7, 2013 6:36AM

One of Chicago’s oldest pharmacies is under federal scrutiny after investigators discovered what they’ve called an “unusual” pattern of narcotics sales, but the owner insists he’s done his best to turn away criminals.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration seized records last month from the 160-year-old pharmacy Carnegie-Sargent’s on the ninth floor of Water Tower Place on the Magnificent Mile.

But no criminal charges have been filed in the investigation, which also involves a doctor suspected of writing fraudulent prescriptions for controlled substances.

“This is part of my push to take a harder look at the pharmaceutical side of things,” said John “Jack” Riley, the agent in charge of the DEA office in Chicago.

Pharmaceutical abuse is a huge problem in Chicago and is linked to abuse of illicit drugs like heroin, Riley said.

Riley said he couldn’t comment on specifics of the case because it’s ongoing.

Mark Paley, a longtime pharmacist and the owner of Carnegie-Sargent’s, said he’s cooperating with the DEA.

“We feel we acted professionally,” he said.

In a request to inspect the pharmacy’s records, the DEA told a judge that Carnegie-Sargent’s pharmacy dispensed as many dosage units of narcotics as a Walgreens in the same area — and more than twice as much as a nearby Dominick’s between Jan. 1, 2010, and Oct. 24, 2012.

“A comparison of larger and similarly sized pharmacies in the same ZIP code as Carnegie-Sargent’s reflects that [the pharmacy’s] narcotics ordering information was highly unusual,” the DEA said.

The DEA added that a “very small number of doctors” with offices on the West and South Sides wrote most of the prescriptions that the pharmacy filled for hydrocodone and promethazine-codeine.

That “may be indicative of a pharmacy that is filling prescriptions that were written by physicians who prescribe highly addictive controlled substances without a legitimate medical need,” according to the DEA.

According to the DEA, authorities interviewed Paley in 2011 as part of an investigation into a doctor suspected of writing 26 fraudulent controlled-substance prescriptions.

But Paley said he’s done nothing wrong.

He said he always confirms the identity of the customer and verifies the doctor is legitimate.

Paley said he noticed a suspicious pattern of out-of-state customers visiting his pharmacy last year. “When I told them they needed a Chicago doctor, it stopped,” he said.

“We’re good guys, but we’re not policemen,” Paley said. “... If the DEA wants me to do something differently, I’m happy to do it.”

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